To celebrate, we sat down with Wen to ask her all about the book and her writing process. Read Part One of our interview here, and see below to find out what books inspired Wen, how she got through the rough times, and what animal makes her cry (hint: it’s a cute one).
What are some stories that inspire your writing?
I’ve been a huge fan of Roald Dahl since I was about 6. A lot of WHAT GOES UP came from thinking about Roald Dahl stories. Especially Matilda, where things are set in the real world, but they get quite considerably out of hand. It’s just this “edge of fantasy” that I really like. Another one that had an effect was A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. I like things that seem just a little bit too wacky to be true.
Did you start writing when you were 6 as well, or were you just a Roald Dahl fanatic at that point?
Oh gosh. I think I’ve been writing creatively most of my life. It just occurred to me in about 2007—I started thinking “There’s a lot of books turning into movies and there’s a lot of people writing books and it kind of seems like something maybe I could do.” So I sat down and wrote my first book and was terribly proud of it. It actually took another five years after that before I got one published.
Wow, five years. Was the motivation to keep writing always there?
Well it’s funniest thing. Once I decided to do it I sort of always felt that I was going to do it. I imagined it like a staircase between myself and actually getting a book on the shelves. The top of the staircase was hidden in clouds, but there was a finite number of steps. I just didn’t know how many there were. With every single rejection that I got, and I think I got about 136, I imagined that each one was another one of those steps, and sooner or later I would get that one rejection that would be the last one I ever got.
That’s an amazing metaphor. What made you want to write in the first place?
A lot of times it was things that made me afraid and things that I tried to make sense of, which was what motivated “The Wrong side of the River,” the first book that we did for Storybird. In a lot of ways I was trying to understand friendships and different relationships, and things that are out of your control. Kids trying to have a say in what goes on in the world, which I think is pretty relevant today.
And for you, making sense of the world also involves art, right? Does your visual art ever inspire your stories? Or vice versa?
Well I started drawing pictures when I was 2 because I couldn’t write. I used to think of these little stories about ponies and they would make me cry.
That’s wonderful [laughs].
[Laughs] My art and my writing do still tend to be about the same things. When I’m drawing a picture, I’m thinking in my head that I’d like to know what the animal’s name is and what things they like. In visual art it’s the drama of light and dark. They’re kind of the same thing—drama and contrast. For “The Phantomime,” one of the books that I wrote on Storybird, I actually did the artwork myself while I was writing it.
What was it like seeing the immediate reactions to stories like “Phantomime” on Storybird?
Oh my gosh, it was the most wonderful thing. When you write you’re often stuck in your room all by yourself and you never really think about what happens if somebody actually gets to read it. Sharing these stories was the most amazing thing. We were getting all these wonderful comments while we were writing.
Is there anything you’d like to add for your fans on Storybird?
I’d just like to say hi to all our wonderful Storybird readers! I still pop in and read the comments as often as I can. I hope to put up some more short stories soon. I just want to thank Storybird for everything you guys have done for us. That was the first opportunity I had to have anybody in the public read my stories and it’s fueled me to write for the rest of my life. I’m just absolutely so grateful that Storybird came along.
Huge thanks to Wen for taking the time to speak with us. Check out her brand new book, WHAT GOES UP, in bookstores now!